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Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Muhammad Shoaib Anjum, Ultimus Pakistan

A few days back I was discussing with some friends, “Why open source software cannot replace commercial software?” And the primary reason we ended up with was “Support & Maintenance”.

Open source is great; its the real thing, and it takes guts & passion to develop what commercial software cannot think about doing. But still, I won’t be categorized rational while adapting a software for running my inventory & finance, which doesn’t have any support tickets along with, and hence cannot help with financial reports for the month of April 2008, that went missing because of a random crash. It just doesn’t make sense.

And its the realization of this factor, that has helped some businesses to come into existence: yes by merely providing support for an open-source application. PostgreSQL for example, is not an easy beast to bow. It teaks guts to get it running and get it continuously running, despite the fact that it is the most advanced open source database out there. PostgreSQL Inc. is making money on this realization.

Red Hat is probably the most successful example when it comes to Linux. The source is open, but they charge for packages, support and all that stuff.

So … even if open source is being used by enterprises, its not just an open source software, but along with support provided by a market player. It just doesn’t make sense, otherwise.

And while providing support, a business may start adding market-demanding-features of its own into the product shipped only with the version deployed by them, and charge for these features separately. Going `a step further, it may decide to make the code for these features closed, to keep it closed off course, or another business might pick, the features and the code, up and start making money on the same.

Going one more step further, it may decide to license the software under question, and charge on separate scales. This is exactly what MySQL recently started doing by providing two separate editions: Community Edition & Enterprise Edition, and EnterpriseDB is doing for some time, and not to forget Google, somewhere on the same lines. Yes you are right, Google does not sell support for open source neither does it sell open source software, but its whole empire is built upon open source software. Google makes money using this huge software base.
So far so good.
The problem arises when you take the software, build your business on it, make money and be happy. Period. You do not bother to take the last step i.e. to pay back. If you are kind enough to contribute back to the community whose original footprint, the original product, you are using as the base; that is great. But if you are not, which most of the people are not, its bad. Very bad infact. You are making money for someone else’s man-hours. You do not deserve it. Yes, right, you are providing support, you marketed it, you added features, all true, but its not yours. You decorated it, but you do not own it. Its like making money from your business housed in a commercial plaza, but not paying the rent.

This pay-back may not necessarily mean paying money. You can rather contribute software to main product line, you may provide resources (servers, bandwidth or anything else) to the community, you might spare a few people to test the beta, or anything that comes to your mind and can be helpful for the people who actually did it.
Pay the rent, please !!!

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